Before the Phillies took on the Angels on June 3, Rob Thomson was serving his fifth season as the Phillies’ bench coach and third under Joe Girardi in Philadelphia. He’s been in the game for 38 years and has never been a major league manager…until now. After a 22-29 start to the season, firing Joe Girardi was the obvious decision with the team underperforming and seeming lifeless for the third year in a row under his management. However, with a below average bullpen, an inconsistent offense, and a terrible defense, Thomson was not expected to succeed as interim manager. In fact, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote on May 31 that firing Girardi wouldn’t make a difference. But, with a record of 41-20 since taking over, Thomson has done more than exceed expectations and has catapulted the Phillies into a wild card spot. With the club’s turnaround, Thomson has earned the opportunity to be the Phillies’ manager of the future.
Since taking over, Thomson’s calming persona has had a tremendous effect on the club’s play. Over the first 51 games, the club played rigid, had no energy, and didn’t seem to enjoy making millions to play a kids game. At the very end of Girardi’s tenure, it was clear the team wouldn’t fight for him. But with Thomson as manager, a fire has been lit underneath them. Coming from behind and beating National League Cy Young front-runner Sandy Alcantara in the eighth inning on Wednesday night proved that. It was a game where the Phillies of years past would have given up after the first inning. But, unlike Girardi’s Phillies, Thomson’s Fightins found a way to win.
A big reason for their dramatic turnaround is the trust Thomson has placed in the young guys. Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Matt Vierling, and Darick Hall––now known as the Phillies Daycare––have been massive beneficiaries of the managerial change. Playing without the fear of being benched for making a mistake in a game where career .300 hitters failed at getting a hit 70 percent of the time, the Daycare relaxed and have finally played to their full potential. Since Girardi’s firing, Bohm has a slashline of .321/.352/.451 and has cemented himself in the number three spot in the lineup until Bryce Harper returns. Not to mention, Bohm has seemed to find his stride in the hot corner, possibly giving the organization’s top executives hope that he can be the long term third baseman. Stott, who batted leadoff for the first time in his career on Friday night, is hitting .249/.316/.409 with 18 walks compared to just 23 strikeouts. Though Stott’s numbers don’t do him justice, the consistency and quality of his at bats have been a welcoming sight. Vierling and Hall, both have played in platoon roles and have produced when given the opportunity. Vierling hit the go-ahead home run off Josh Hader on June 7 and Hall is sporting a .886 OPS with eight long balls since making his debut on June 29. The Phillies Daycare has certainly played a significant role in the club’s recent success, and Thomson’s influence cannot be understated.
David Robertson, who the Phillies acquired at the trade deadline on August 2nd, spoke about Thomson in a recent interview detailed in Matt Gelb’s August 11 article in The Athletic. According to the reliever, who has known Thomson since their days in the Yankees organization, said “He was always the guy…Rob knew just as much and had a great feel for how things were going. He’s always had great clubhouse awareness. He was born to do this job.” That vote of confidence, coming from a well-respected veteran player who’s played for both Girardi and Thomson, should be all Dombrowski needs to hear to think of Thomson as the front-runner for the managerial position.
Nevertheless, the managerial hiring process isn’t as simple as removing the interim tag after Thomson’s superb job at turning the season around. According to MLB rules, organizations must interview at least one minority candidate to guarantee equal opportunity in addition to conducting multiple rounds of interviews. However, if the Phillies end their decade-long playoff drought, the interview process shouldn’t last too long. Thomson will undoubtedly be the heavy favorite to remain at the helm for 2023 and beyond.
Photo: Paul Sancya/AP Photo